Cumberland High School — Harlan County, Kentucky

Cumberland High School served students in the tri cities area of Harlan County Kentucky
Cumberland High School served students in the tri cities area of Harlan County Kentucky

Cumberland High School was home of the Redskins and served students in the tri cities area for over 75 years until it closed in 2008.

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Cumberland High School will be the school that will be the focus of this entry.  Cumberland is a city located in the northern part of Harlan County near the Letcher County line on US 119.  Coal is king in all of Harlan County, but probably more so in the Tri Cities area than in any other part of the county.  This has lead to the Cumberland area being hit harder than say the Harlan area with declining enrollment in their schools.  In 1989 Cumberland High School had over 600 students.  When the school closed in 2008 enrollment was 310.

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Cumberland High School was built in the early 1930s with an addition in the late 70s-early 80s.   Not one, not two but technically three high schools were absorbed by Cumberland High School over its 75 year history.   Benham High School, which was 4 miles away in the company town of Benham closed in 1961.   Around that same time Lynch West Main or otherwise known as the Lynch Colored High School was integrated into Lynch High School.  Lynch was a separate school district at that time and would remain that way until 1981 when the school district along with its schools were closed and high school students from Lynch High School were sent to Cumberland High School.

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Back around the turn of the century in 1999 and 2000 a new committee was formed in the Harlan County School District to look at the current facilities and decide schools that needed remodeled or replaced.    Everyone knew that the district’s 3 high schools,  James A. Cawood, Evarts and Cumberland were in dire need of attention as the later was newest of the three being built in the mid 1960s.   Cumberland and Evarts dated all the way back to the 1920s and 1930s.

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At the time, school consolidation, especially high school consolidation was a hot topic.  This topic was argued back and forth for a couple of years.  Finally the Facilities planning committee voted 9-7 to consolidate the counties three high schools into a brand new facility at an uspecified location.

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The school board agreed and in a 3-2 vote approved to begin to make plans to build a new centralized school.

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Some in the county, particularly in the Tri Cities area were pretty upset with the way things turned out and they took the fight all the way to the Kentucky Board of Education.

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You have to wonder just where has that old Pepsi can been hiding.

After a lengthy fight, in 2003 the Kentucky Board of Education sided with the pro-consolidation movement and plans were back on track to build a new high school in Harlan County that would lead to the closure of Cawood, Evarts and Cumberland.

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School construction began on what would become Harlan County High School in 2006.   The people of the tri cities were still not ready to concede.  There were even rumblings that the people of the tri cities would form their own independent school district separate of Harlan County to keep their high school in their community.

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Eventually all of the controversy died down and in May of 2008 Cumberland High School held a commencement ceremony for its final graduating class of 67 seniors.  Cumberland ended the 2007-08 school year with right at 310 students in grades 9-12.

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Since the school was closed in 2008 there have been various rumors of its future use, including everything from part of the land being repurposed for a McDonalds to the old school being sold to the community college that is less than a mile away.  The latter project was even listed in various budget items in the Kentucky General Assembly as recently as 2014.

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Considering some of the other abandoned schools I have ran across the school at Cumberland is still in fairly good condition.  There are a lot of broken windows and busted doors, but those parts of the building were probably not up to building code anyway.

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As you can see in this picture Cumberland recieved a substatial addition.

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This classroom is located in the front of the building.

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This classroom is on the other side of the entryway from the first classroom on the front side of the building.

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The gymnasium is still very true to its original archetectual values with the rounded roof that was present on many gyms in Harlan County that were built during this era.

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The hardwood has been removed from the basketball court.

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As you can tell, vandals have had their fun with several of the windows and just about every exterior door in the building has had the glass shattered.


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Before closing this entry let me just say that this entry is probably one of my most ‘wordy’ so far concerning an abandoned school.  I live in and have lived in Harlan County a great part of my life.  I lived here when the consolidation fight was taking shape.  Sadly, I really didnt pay a lot of attention when it was going on but some of the issues and instances stick out in my mind when I think back to it.  I done a little research before writing this blog and the one thing that stood out at me was the number of Cumberland High Schools that there are in the world!  Rhode Island, Illinois, Virginia and even Australia!  Hopefully the people of Cumberland and the tri cities can find a way to utilize this building for the good of the community.  I leave you with a couple of pictures that I took of the high school during the summer of 2008 right after classes had ended for the last time at Cumberland High School.    It was around this time that I was just getting into digital photography and urbex exploring.

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Enjoy this blog and as always if any of you have any details or information about this school please comment or message me.  Thank you for reading!19027468634_d6995efae1_o

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1 thought on “Cumberland High School — Harlan County, Kentucky”

  1. I’m proud to have graduated from Cumberland High school. I enjoyed your blog. One major flaw I noticed, was you didn’t mention the schools mascot and football program. The Cumberland REDSKINS was known year after year for competitive football teams, even played in the state championship. The team had fans everywhere they played.

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